Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Jay Z Project Part 1: Reasonable Doubt

Yes indeed, I'm very excited to create and share this project with you all, on my #2 favorite MC of all time, the legendary Jay Z. Before I proceed with part 1 of this project, I want to make one thing clear:

I'm ONLY covering Jay's solo albums, so respectively, the project with Linkin Park, the two "Best Of Both Worlds" albums with R. Kelly, "Watch The Throne", the "Streets Is Watching" soundtrack and "Unplugged" will not be covered. If any of you would like me to cover those at some point, that's cool, but otherwise, this project will be focused solely on his solo albums.

We all know that Jay got his start in hip hop, along with Jaz-O, in the late 1980s (heading into the 90s), with notable songs "The Originators" and "Hawaiian Sophie", which you can listen to now if you haven't heard them before".

It was clear that Jaz-O was an early influence on his career, and as the mid 1990s arrived, more material came [which will be posted below], such as "I Can't Get With That". This would surprise newer fans to hear Jay use a faster flow (I refuse to say he flowed like the Fu-Schnickens), and notable collaborations with Big Daddy Kane [another influence] on "Show & Prove", Big L [Da Graveyard], and Mic Geronimo [Time To Build]. 1995 saw the release of "In My Lifetime", a nice and smooth jam which would introduce the world to the style that would be utilized to the fullest on the first edition of "Dead Presidents", and of course his 1996 debut, "Reasonable Doubt".

Leading up to the release of "Reasonable Doubt", I remember seeing the "Dead Presidents" video for the first time on Rap City and really enjoying it. I kinda knew he was going to be a big deal, but not on the level of what he would later become, which is one of the biggest and most influential MCs of our time. I also remember anticipating this album very much, but in a summer where Nas' "It Was Written" [released the next Tuesday after Jay's debut] was the hottest album at the moment, it was a strong second. And looking back on it further, The Source magazine's July [or August] issue gave both albums a respectable 4 mic rating. I cosign on the rating for "It Was Written", but not the one for "Reasonable Doubt", but more on that later. I also want to mention two facts before I begin talking about this classic:

1) This album was released on June 25, 1996, my birthday!!!!!

2) I bought this album 3 times, the first on July 4, 1997. Please don't ask why it took me so long to cop it, smh+lol.

Featured Guests
Mary J. Blige
The Notorious B.I.G.
Foxy Brown
Memphis Bleek
Sauce Money
Big Jaz

Behind The Boards
Sean Cane
Clark Kent
Dame Dash
DJ Premier
DJ Irv
Big Jaz
Peter Panic


1. Can't Knock The Hustle

"We get together like a choir, to acquire what we desire"

What better way to start this album than with this classic, definitely one of my favorite songs from Jay. In addition to the first "Dead Presidents", this song effectively served as an introduction to his world, already letting you know that no matter what the situation is, the "hustle" can't be knocked, and he told this story better than anyone at the time. I also can't forget Mary J. Blige's great performance on the hook.
*5 out of 5*

2. Politics As Usual

"Y'all feel a nigga struggle/Y'all think a nigga love to, hustle behind the wheel, tryin to escape my trouble"

"I wear black a lot/In the AC, act a lot/Got matchin VCRs, a huge Magnavox, 10 inch/Green like spinach, pop wines that vintage/It's a lotta big money in my sentence"

  It didn't occur to me till years later that no matter type of situation you're in, especially business, there's going to be some form of politics, hence the title "Politics As Usual". Revisiting this song today made me think that Jay was not only talking about hip hop, he was also talking about the streets, so you receive a dynamic double dose of realism in the same song. Outstanding.
*5 out of 5*

3. Brooklyn's Finest

"For 96, the only MC wit a flu, yeah I rhyme sick"-Jay-Z

"Me and Gutta had two spots/The two for $5.00 hits the blue tops/Gotta go, Coolio, means it's gettin too hot/If Faye (Faith) had twins she'll probably have two Pacs/Get it, TWO PACS" -Biggie

Oh man, talk about an appropriately titled classic. Jay and Biggie had an undeniable chemistry together, and this was a fine example of it. You can hear it in Jay's voice that he was excited and inspired, while Biggie was more smoother than usual. I also lost my mind when I first heard this and it stands as one of the best collabos of all time.
*5 out of 5*

4. Dead Presidents II: New Lyrics

"I dabbled in crazy weight/Without rap, I was crazy straight/Partner I'm still spendin money from 88, what!"

"Naked without ya gun/We takin everything you brung/We cakin, you niggas is fakin, we gettin it done"

The sequel to the original "Dead Presidents" is simply excellent and I can't even begin to tell you which one is better. One thing I want to make clear is that this is NOT just another song about money. Jay cleverly talks about the highs and lows of "the paper chase" and the things that come with the territory. It's not unusual for me to put this song on repeat when I listen to this album. Great stuff.
*5 out of 5*

5. Feelin It

 One of the most laid back songs Jay has ever made, he was definitely feelin everything on this one, which would be himself, the lyrics, the track, and the whole vibe. I also wonder what happened to Mecca, who did a fine job on the hook.
*5 out of 5*

6. D'Evils

"9 to 5 is how you survive/I ain't tryin to survive/I'm tryin to live it to the limit and love it alive"

"Throughout my junior high years it was all friendly/But now this Higher Learning got the Remy in me/Liquors invaded my kidneys......"

This is phenomenal. Jay is very descriptive on this song, and it's one of many songs by him that has to be heard to be appreciated. "It gets dangerous/Money and power is changin us/And now we lethal, infected wit d'evils". Right on.
*5 out of 5*

7. 22 Twos

"Too many ladies give these niggas too many chances/Too many brothas wanna be lovers, don't know what romance is"

"To all my brothas it ain't too late to come together/Cause too much black and too much love equal forever"

"I don't follow any guidelines/Cause too many niggas ride mine, so I change styles every 2 rhymes"

Right off the bat, the first verse is tight as hell, which is where the above quotes come from. I believe I can still recite it word for word today. Straight dopeness.
*5 out of 5*

8. Can I Live

"I'd rather die enormous than live dormant, that's how we on it"

With everything going on in his life and career, I guarantee you Jay asked this one question since the very beginning, "can I live?" He ponders this over a smooth DJ Irv produced, Issac Hayes "The Look Of Love" sampled track.
*5 out of 5*

9. Ain't No Nigga

"I been sinnin since you been playin with Barbie and Ken and/You can't change a playa's game in the 9th inning"

History has all but shown that this song is a classic, no doubt. Jay does his thing as usual, but man, whether it was penned by her or not, Foxy almost steals the show with her verse (one of her best ever) and it put her on the map in a major way. It certainly gives her "I Shot Ya" remix verse a run for its money. Of the Jay/Foxy collabos, this is the best one.
*5 out of 5*

10. Friend Or Foe

You can listen to this brief song and tell Jay was having a bit of fun during the making of it. He would later turn this into a video for the "Streets Is Watching" movie.
*4 out of 5*

11. Coming Of Age
I guarantee you Memphis Bleek continues to thank God for his verse here, which is also one of his best. "Coming Of Age" tells the familiar story of the experienced vet taking a young, hungry, ambitious new comer under his wing, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was based on actual events.To be continued.
 *5 out of 5*

12. Cashmere Thoughts

"18 karat gold pen, when it hits the sheets/Words worth a million like I'm rappin em through platinum teeth"

"The proper etiquette/When I drop the subject, verb and the predicate/Wit this rich nigga rhetoric"

This is what I would call "flossin gymnastics". Jay kept this brief, but strong.
*5 out of 5*

13. Bring It On

"Said we was garbage, so fuck college/Street knowledge amazes the scholars when we coin phrases for dollars" -Sauce Money

"You ain't ready, I find no trigga straight up/Shoot my guns horizontal, get ya weight up" -Jay-Z

"Do the knowledge, do the few dollars/I'm due to demolish crews, Brooklyn through Hollis to a hood near you, what the fuck!!" -Jay-Z

"Absence of malice in my palace/Call cousin Idalis, trigga finga wit da callous/Tip scales for mail to keep these niggas off balance" -Big Jaz

This is one of the more underrated, appropriately titled collabos right here. Jay, Sauce Money (another very underrated MC) and Big Jaz spit straight fire over this DJ Premier produced banger. "Bring it on if you think you can hang/And if not, then let me do my thang!" Nuff said.
*5 out of 5*

14. Regrets

"In order to survive gotta learn to live wit regrets"

 I truly see what Jay was aiming for on this closer, and learning to live with regrets is something I, and others, can testify to. He does a great job detailing his past actions and dealing with those decisions years after the fact.
*5 out of 5*

Wow, not only is this STILL my #4 favorite album of all time, it has aged incredibly well and I found myself liking it a little more than I did when I first bought it. I recall hearing Jay say that he intended this to be his one and only album, and had that actually happened, this likely would've been the greatest "one album performance" in hip hop history. The production, ranging from smooth then rugged, then laid back, (rinse-repeat) perfectly matched Jay's top notch lyricism. He would get bigger (and in some ways better) from here, but make no mistake about it, this is THE crowning jewel of his discography. Classic material.

5 stars

Sales- 1.5 million copies sold as of 2006

Next, we take a trip to 1997, a year with success and unfortunate tragedy. 





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